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New Year Bridge Toll Hikes May Be Tipping Point for Bay Area Commuters

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Bay Area commuters woke up to one unwelcome New Year change: a $1 toll increase at all Bay Area bridges except the Golden Gate. It was approved by the voters but, for some commuters, the cost-v.-benefit of crossing the bridges may be reaching a tipping point.

"This is the second of three toll increases that were approved by voters back in 2018," said John Goodwin, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

"Regional Measure 3" instituted $1 toll hikes for 2019, 2022 and 2025 on all seven state-owned Bay Area bridges. It will pay for area transportation projects, including new cars for BART (with an extension into downtown San Jose), freeway improvements in Alameda and Contra Costa counties and improvements to Highway 37 in the North Bay. The measure is expected to raise $4.5 billion in total but, Goodwin says, the $315 million generated by the 2019 increase has, so far, been held up by legal challenges.

"The funds that we have collected through Regional Measure 3 have been held in escrow and none of them have been distributed for projects yet," Goodwin said.

The state Supreme Court will determine if the toll hikes are legal or if they will need to be refunded somehow to bridge crossers.

Even a $1 increase may present a problem in these fragile economic times. Many tech workers have abandoned the daily commute, leaving the Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges at a fraction of their former traffic. Minimum wage earners may be reconsidering the added expense of commuting into work in the city, leaving San Francisco businesses struggling to find enough workers.

"That's going to add to their expenses to work," said Oakland resident Stephanie Temple-Hoite. "And if you can't afford to live over there, you might just want to find work in the East Bay and not have to travel across the bridge, right?"

San Leandro resident Michael Batryn is grateful he no longer has to drive into the city every day.

"It's still a once-a-week thing and that's going to add up really quick," he said. Batryn thinks people have already begun considering bridge tolls when making major life decisions. "They were with the last increase and it's going to be even more now," he said.

That's true for Jannifer Montes. She works in San Rafael and wanted to move to Richmond for cheaper rents but said the bridge toll may make that unworkable.

"It's making me change my decision, you know?" she said. "I don't know if it's going to make sense to move to save some rent if you make your number seven dollars every day!"

Transportation officials may be recognizing the problem. Effective immediately, all toll violation penalties have been sharply reduced, with first-time offenses dropping from a $25 fine down to just $5.

For those who commute across the bridges every day, toll increases are becoming a genuine concern. It's just one dollar but, for some, it may be the last straw.

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